Cricket facing its own climate test

Cricket facing its own climate test
Spectators sit under plastic sheets as the match between Pakistan and New Zealand during their Twenty20 international at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on April 18, 2024 was stopped due to rain. (AFP)
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Updated 25 April 2024
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Cricket facing its own climate test

Cricket facing its own climate test
  • With international cricket played throughout the year, the probability of matches being affected by adverse weather has increased

Rain is the scourge of cricket. It has the capacity to whip up conflicting feelings. Players may feel that it has rescued their team from looming defeat or denied them of certain victory.

Spectators may feel the same way but will not have the cover of a pavilion or dressing room in which to shelter. Furthermore, they are likely to feel deprived of part of their entrance fee. These feelings used to be commonly associated with cricket in the British Isles. This may still linger, given the wet start to the 2024 county cricket season, but it is no longer universally the case.

In the UAE, of all places, a year of rain is reported to have fallen in 24 hours, from late Monday to Tuesday. At 3 p.m. on Monday it was as dark as the night. Some reports suggested that cloud seeding was the cause, but why might that have been deployed at that time of year? The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reports that the Earth recorded its hottest March on record, the 10th consecutive month to reach that feat. These all-time monthly highs were observed both in the air and in water. The Copernicus report judged that the temperatures were the result of decades of human-caused warming and El Nino climate patterns.

Obtaining a consensus on the causes seems beyond reach, although data points to an extraordinary surge in temperatures around the planet. This may stop once El Nino patterns end and temperatures cool. It is not yet possible to know if a fundamental shift has occurred in the Earth’s climate. In this uncertain moment, longer-term decisions have to be made by those responsible for running cricket.

An example of this is real in Worcester, England. Since 1896, Worcestershire County Cricket Club’s home has been at New Road, nestling under the watchful eye of the neighboring cathedral. This provides it with iconic status in the eyes of the cricketing world. The ground also sits on the west bank of the River Severn which, in recent years, has flooded with increasing regularity. This season, the county’s first two matches cannot be played there because the ground has not recovered from the winter’s flooding. Instead, they will be played at Kidderminster, 25km north.

The increased frequency and severity of flooding is causing the club’s management to assess alternative options to sustain its future. Amongst these are improved flood-alleviation measures and a move away from New Road, a prospect that is anathema to many supporters. The city is mindful of what happened to its soccer and rugby teams. The former moved grounds in 2013, resulting in a nomadic existence for a decade and a drop of three levels in the game’s pyramid. Its rugby team entered receivership in October 2022.

This sorrowful tale, thrown into stark perspective for Worcestershire CCC by adverse climate events, differs from the effects of adverse weather in other parts of the world. In the UAE, the effects were to cause the cancellation of a quadrangular tournament between the women’s T20 teams of the UAE, the US, the Netherlands and Scotland in Abu Dhabi. This was planned as a warm-up event before the ICC women’s T20I qualifying tournament in Abu Dhabi, set to open on April 25. Players have been deprived of valuable match practice, but that deprivation pales against that suffered by local residents.

During the Asia Premier Cup in Oman, there was rain, not of UAE proportions, but sufficient to disrupt some matches. The urbane curator of south Indian descent, Annop C Kandy, remarked that he had rarely seen rain in his eight years in charge and would normally expect temperatures in the 40°C range during April — an antidote to notions of a warming planet. He also revealed that whatever rain did fall came from the west and was short-lived. Unusually, this rain was from the south and southeast.

It caused much work for the curator and his staff, who coped admirably, notably when placing covers over the pitches during heavy windy conditions. Six of the 24 matches were shortened, two to 18 overs, two to 15 overs, one to 11 overs and one to eight overs. The last one affected Saudi Arabia and Nepal, with the latter winning with four balls to spare. It will never be known how the match would have played out if 20 overs had been possible.

Given that international cricket is now played around the world throughout the year, it should be no surprise that the probability of matches being affected by adverse weather has increased. It also seems that the severity of the impact is increasing. A recent example of this has occurred in Scotland. Unprecedented poor weather delayed pitch preparation at a ground near Dundee where a Cricket World Cup League 2 tournament between Scotland, Namibia and Oman was postponed. Originally due to take place between May 2 and 12, it is now scheduled for July, with the agreement of the three countries and the International Cricket Council.

It should not be forgotten that the 2023 Indian Premier League final was affected by rain in Ahmedabad. The match was originally scheduled to be played on May 28, but was postponed to the reserve day, May 29. This was the first time that the IPL final had been postponed because of adverse weather. Chennai Super Kings’ response was delayed for over an hour by rain and then the target adjusted with the innings being reduced to 15 overs. This outcome for a showpiece final was not ideal.

Although rain is regarded as cricket’s traditional bete noire, other climate issues have begun to be felt. During the ODI World Cup in India last November, extreme heat levels affected players, as did very high levels of air pollution, especially in Delhi. Cricketers and their administrators can do little to prevent the causes of these problems. What they are faced with is the need to devise and adopt measures which ameliorate the impact of climate issues and enhance the game’s sustainability. This may be about to get more difficult.


Cricket’s rising demands are impacting physical and mental health

Cricket’s rising demands are impacting physical and mental health
Updated 2 min 20 sec ago
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Cricket’s rising demands are impacting physical and mental health

Cricket’s rising demands are impacting physical and mental health
  • Against a background of outstanding achievements are cries for help by professional cricketers who want to reduce their workload

Fred Trueman of Yorkshire and England was long regarded as his nation’s greatest fast bowler. In his prime, he bowled a thousand overs for Yorkshire during a summer.

This was an era when the only cricket matches on view, apart from Tests, were three-day county championships between 17 counties. In 1964, Trueman was the first bowler to claim 300 wickets in Test matches. When asked if he thought his achievement would be beaten, his response — typical of the man — was: “Aye, but whoever does it will be very tired.”

Since then, 36 bowlers have beaten Trueman’s record. Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan claimed 800, followed by Australia’s Shane Warne with 708, and then there is England’s James Anderson, who has 700 and is due to play his last Test this year.

Anderson’s longevity and fitness is truly remarkable. He has sent down almost 40,000 deliveries in Test matches alone, the fourth highest among those taking more than three hundred wickets. He is not admitting to any tiredness and is regarded by some as having claim to be England’s finest quick bowler, rather than Trueman. Both their achievements, in different eras, are extraordinary. Trueman’s feat was accompanied by a bowling average of 21.57, only bettered by Malcom Marshall (20.94) and Curtly Ambrose (20.99). Anderson’s is 26.52.

It is against the background of these achievements that current cries for help by professional cricketers to reduce their workload should be gauged. Another of Yorkshire’s finest players is Joe Root who, in 140 Tests for England so far, has scored 11,626 runs. This puts him 10th on the all-time list of top Test run scorers. His workload has been intense for years, even more so when he captained England in 64 Tests, yet he rarely complains. Last week, however, he called for a major rethink of English cricket’s crowded schedule.

This was accompanied by the Professional Cricketers Association calling for change “before something disastrous happens.”

Based on a survey of professional male cricketers, the PCA revealed that key concerns are physical heath (81 percent), travel conditions (75 percent) and mental health (62 percent). Long-distance driving late at night, whether moving between matches or traveling home, is a particular worry. It is argued that player welfare and performance are compromised by the lack of time to recover, prepare and practice.

Professional cricket in England and Wales has a particular issue in that there are four men’s competitions shoe-horned into a window between mid-April and the end of September, with August given over entirely to The Hundred. Last year, proposals to reduce the amount of four-day county cricket and T20 cricket were rejected by the counties. Effectively, the 50 over competition has been downgraded because so few of the top players appear in it. According to Root, the objective should be to get “the standard of first-class and county cricket as close as you can to the international game.”

Professional cricketers in England and Wales have raised the issue of congested schedules and travelling pressure before. The explosion of T20 cricket in the last 20 years has increased this congestion and turned it into a more international concern. In India and Australia, for example, the distances between venues are much greater, with flying and its attendant risks additional factors.

In November 2023, during the announcement of India’s ODI squad for a series against Australia, India’s captain, Rohit Sharma, blamed excessive travel for injured players across the teams. It is in the interests of all cricket boards to narrow the gap between the standard of the breeding ground of first-class cricket and international cricket. Each one has different ways of doing so, a reflection of relative resources, geography and historic structures.

In India, reform is proposed for 2024-25. It seems likely that the Ranji Trophy, the country’s state-based long format game and the equivalent of the English county championship, will be split into two halves. White ball tournaments would be held in between. The main drivers behind this are to address variable winter weather conditions in the north and to allow longer gaps between matches to facilitate travel and recovery. This is similar reasoning to that aired by Joe Root and the PCA.

More forgiving schedules may release pressure on mental health, an often-overlooked facet of professional sport. There have been a number of high-profile cases in recent years in cricket. Azeem Rafiq’s experience of racism at Yorkshire was one. Another was Jonathan Trott, who played 52 Tests for England between 2009 and 2015. He left England’s tour of Australia in November 2013, unable to cope with the demands at that level. A man with very high levels of concentration lost them and referred to the impact of social media, saying: “People don't look you in the face and have a conversation and ask you how you are.”

Rohit Sharma, in the aftermath of India’s defeat in the 2023 ODI World Cup Final, was mentally shattered. He eschewed social media and opted out of ODI and T20I assignments against South Africa. Men’s cricket is a tough environment that appears not to appreciate that mental health issues are real. The growth of women’s cricket has brought about a change in approaches to mental health within the game. A webinar which I joined this week promoted by the Cricket Research Network discussed the different physiological challenges which women face in advancing in the game.

Quite what Fred Trueman would have made of this is an open question. He was an un-constituted menacing quick bowler who bullied opponents. It is not unreasonable to assume he would have been aghast at the notion of women playing professional cricket.

After his playing days were over, he became a pundit and commentator. His catch line was: “I don’t know what is going on.” He would be even more at a loss in today’s world of social media and Bollywood-style cricket.


US, Canada squads at the Twenty20 World Cup are a melting pot of nationalities

US, Canada squads at the Twenty20 World Cup are a melting pot of nationalities
Updated 23 May 2024
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US, Canada squads at the Twenty20 World Cup are a melting pot of nationalities

US, Canada squads at the Twenty20 World Cup are a melting pot of nationalities
  • The team provides a snapshot of US cricket at this formative stage, as Major League Cricket jostles for its place in a crowded sporting market
  • Canada will be led by the veteran left-armer spinner Saad bin Zafar, who was born in Pakistan
  • The US meet Canada in the tournament opener on June 1 and then there’ll be a step up for both teams in Group A

NEW YORK: The US cricket team which will co-host the Twenty20 World Cup may be a fitting cross-section of its country as a roster of migrants, a melting pot of nationalities and cultures.

The 15-man squad includes players born in India, Pakistan, New Zealand and South Africa. Home-grown players include vice-captain Aaron Jones, who was born in Queens, and allrounder Steven Taylor, of Hialeah, Florida.

The team provides a snapshot of US cricket at this formative stage, as Major League Cricket jostles for its place in a crowded sporting market. The squad includes foreign players drawn to America by the MLC and local players given the chance to play cricket at a professional level in the United States

The home team’s most recognized member is the former New Zealand allrounder Corey Anderson. The 33-year-old Anderson played 13 Tests, 49 one-day internationals and 31 T20 internationals for New Zealand between 2013 and 2018 in a career limited by injuries.

He earned a place in cricket history for his 36-ball century in a one-day international between New Zealand and the West Indies on New Year’s Day, 2014. Anderson also has played in T20 leagues in Australia, India, the Caribbean and UAE before finding an MLC home at the San Francisco Unicorns.

Anderson made his first half-century for the US in their T20 win over Canada last month.

Mumbai-born Harmeet Singh, who played for India at two Under-19 World Cups, was the star for the 19th-ranked US team earlier this week in an upset win over Bangladesh. It the only the second win over a full ICC member for the US

He scored 33 from the 13 deliveries he faced and shared an unbeaten, match-winning 62-run partnership with Anderson, who was unbeaten on 34.

“It means a lot to us to put on a show against Bangladesh. We are no walkovers,” Harmeet told ESPNcricinfo. “I think our potential is immense.”

The US meet Canada in the tournament opener on June 1 and then there’ll be a step up for both teams in Group A, which also includes India and Pakistan, fierce cricket rivals with enormous support, and Ireland.

Among the other foreign-born players on the US squad coached by ex-Australia batter Stuart Law is right-arm fast bowler Ali Khan, who moved with his parents from Pakistan to the US when he was 18.

He first played for the US team in 2016 and has also has played in the Indian Premier League, Caribbean Premier League and Pakistan Premier League, in Global T20 Canada and the Afghanistan Premier League.

Captain Monank Patel, a wicketkeeper-batsman, was born in India and settled in New Jersey after moving permanently to the US in 2016. He played at a junior level for Gujarat in India and played the first of his 47 one-day internationals and 23 T20 internationals for the US in 2019.

Andries Gous, another wicketkeeper-batsmen, was born in Welkom, South Africa, played for South Africa at under-19 level and played 60 first-class matches before relocating to the US in 2021. He and Patel were the highest scorers for the US in the recent five-match series against Canada.

Allrounder Milind Kumar is another India-born player who accumulated nine centuries in 60 first-class appearances for Delhi before making his home in the US

The Canada team scheduled to meet the US in the opening match is also a team drawn from many places and shaped by the evolution of a professional league at home.

Canada will be led by the veteran left-armer spinner Saad bin Zafar, who was born in Pakistan. He moved to Canada to study and was first named in the Canadian T20 team in 2008. Now 37, he has played 38 T20 internationals and once took two wickets without conceding a run in four overs in a T20 against Panama.

Jamaica-born batter Aaron Johnson, Pakistan-born left-arm fast bowler Kaleem Sana and Guyana-born right-arm quick Dillon Heyliger reflect the international makeup of the team which is coached by former Sri Lanka international Pubudu Dassanayake.
 


Nicholas Pooran powers Lucknow Super Giants to dead-rubber IPL win over hapless Mumbai Indians

Nicholas Pooran powers Lucknow Super Giants to dead-rubber IPL win over hapless Mumbai Indians
Updated 17 May 2024
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Nicholas Pooran powers Lucknow Super Giants to dead-rubber IPL win over hapless Mumbai Indians

Nicholas Pooran powers Lucknow Super Giants to dead-rubber IPL win over hapless Mumbai Indians
  • Mumbai out, Lucknow too failed to qualify for the playoffs

MUMBAI: Nicholas Pooran starred in Lucknow Super Giants’ 18-run victory over pre-tournament favorites Mumbai Indians in the last game of a disappointing Indian Premier League season for both teams Friday.
The maverick West Indies’ wicketkeeper-batsman hit eight sixes in his 29-ball 75 to take Lucknow to 214-6 after Mumbai skipper Hardik Pandya won the toss and chose to field first.
Mumbai crashed to 196-6 despite an impressive start by openers Rohit Sharma and Dewald Brevis in their rain-interrupted chase.
Pandya said that it was “quite difficult” for five-time champions Mumbai, who finished the 10-team league in last spot.
“This season we didn’t play good quality cricket and it cost us the whole season,” Pandya said.
Lucknow too failed to qualify for the playoffs and ended the tournament in sixth spot.
Captain KL Rahul said that it was “very disappointing.”
He blamed mid-season injuries to key players and said that they “didn’t play well enough collectively and couldn’t come together” as a team.
Earlier, Nuwan Thushara got Mumbai off to a great start and removed opener Devdutt Padikkal for a first ball duck.
Padikkal’s partner Rahul stitched together a 48-run partnership with Australia’s Marcus Stoinis, who fell to Piyush Chawla’s leg-spin for a 22-ball 28 in the sixth over.
Chawla also removed Deepak Hooda (11) to reduce Lucknow to 69-3 by the 10th over.
Thushara finally removed Pooran in the 17th over to end his match-defining, 109-run partnership with Rahul.
He also removed rookie Arshad Khan (0) in the same over and finished with 3-28 in his four-over spell.
Chawla removed Rahul, who took 41 balls for his 55 runs, in the 18th over and finished with 3-29.
Key unbeaten cameos by Ayush Badoni (22) and Krunal Pandya (12) took Lucknow to 214-6.
Mumbai’s openers took their team to 88 before Brevis fell for 23 in the ninth over.
India skipper Sharma top-scored with a 38-ball 68 with 10 fours and three sixes before he fell in the 11th over.
In between, Mumbai also lost their best T20 batsman, Suryakumar Yadav, for 0 and were reduced to 97-3 while out-of-form skipper Pandya fell for 16.
Indian rookie Naman Dhir hit five sixes and four fours in his unbeaten 28-ball 62.
Leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi, who removed Sharma, and Afghanistan’s Naveen-ul-Haq, who removed Brevis, took four key Mumbai wickets between them.


Why English and Welsh cricket stands at a crossroads

Why English and Welsh cricket stands at a crossroads
Updated 16 May 2024
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Why English and Welsh cricket stands at a crossroads

Why English and Welsh cricket stands at a crossroads
  • Since its inception in 2021, The Hundred format has been divisive on several levels, but ECB could implement changes to how it is run

On May 11, the second of a four-day county championship match unfolded in front of my eyes at the Utilita Bowl, Southampton. This is the home of Hampshire County Cricket Club. On a rare sunny day, there seemed to be around 600 other people watching, a majority in the members’ area.

Hampshire CCC is unusual in that it is one of three out of the 18 county cricket clubs in England and Wales that are not subject to member votes. It is owned by Hampshire Sport & Leisure Holdings, a private limited company which oversees sporting and leisure activities on the site. Its former chair, who was instrumental in saving the county from insolvency in 2001, owns 60 percent of the shares.

By coincidence, Hampshire’s opponents were Durham County Cricket Club, another county not subject to member votes. It is constituted as a Community Interest Company, a form of social enterprise. Northamptonshire County Cricket Club is the third one not to be subject to member votes, being constituted as a private company limited by guarantee.

The scene at Southampton would have been replicated at the other five county championship matches taking place on May 11. At the same time in Kolkata, the Knight Riders and the Mumbai Indians were preparing to play the 60th match of the 2024 Indian Premier League franchise competition. Average spectator attendance in the IPL is estimated to be 30,000. These two different models of promoting cricket may be about to coalesce, if proposed changes to the landscape in England and Wales come to fruition.

The changes center on The Hundred, a format of cricket introduced by the England and Wales Cricket Board in 2021. The two teams each play a single innings of 100 deliveries, divided into 20 overs of five deliveries, with two overs bowled from each end alternately. Each match is scheduled to last for two-and-a-half hours. Eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams comprise separate competitions with all matches played back-to-back on the same day at the same venue. The whole of August is allocated to The Hundred to the exclusion of other formats.

Ever since its inception, the tournament has been divisive on several levels. First, it has segregated the 18 counties into those who host The Hundred and those who do not. The eight participating counties are Glamorgan, Hampshire, Lancashire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Warwickshire and Yorkshire. However, the teams do not carry the county names, since the concept was to create city-based teams using existing county facilities. Agreement to progress with the tournament depended upon the support of excluded counties. This was achieved by the ECB’s offer to pay each county £1.3 million ($1.6 million) for their backing.

At a second level, there are differing opinions about the opportunity cost of this funding. The ECB receives around 75 percent of its income from the sale of broadcasting rights, a substantial part of which relates to Test-match cricket. Critics argue that using this money to support and develop a format which represents an existential threat to Test cricket is willful. They argue that the funds should be deployed in producing players for the longer rather than shorter formats.

On a third level, it is argued that the focus on eight counties, instead of 18, will hasten the demise of some of the latter, several of whom are in parlous financial circumstances. It is understood that, in the last two years, five counties have received financial help from the ECB. Overall debt levels in county cricket may be in the order of £200 million, some of this being incurred in stadium development designed to host international matches. In addition, operational costs have increased sharply in recent years.

It is in this context that the ECB’s current proposal to sell off 49 percent of equity in The Hundred has great attraction. The balance of 51 percent would be owned by the host county, which can decide to retain it all or sell part or all of it. The proceeds of the 49 percent are to be distributed to counties according to an undisclosed formula. The ECB requested that counties agreed to a “direction of travel” by May 10.

A divergence of opinion has emerged amongst the counties about the proposed model for distributing the spoils, split broadly between those who host The Hundred and those who do not. Needless to say, both sides appear to want more. In terms of numbers, some reports assert that the ECB’s sale of 49 percent equity might raise some $507 million (£400 million) for distribution, enough to salve the cash problems of a few counties. It is understandable that the non-hosting counties fear that they could get sold down the river.

There is already a fear that they are becoming marginalized by not being a host of The Hundred format. If the money raised by the ECB falls well short of the $507 million, then their financial problems may not be solved and their marginalization exacerbated. There are also legitimate concerns over governance and scheduling issues once private owners become involved. At this stage, the nature of private investors is unknown. It would be no surprise if Indian franchise owners show interest. However, it is reasonable to assume that they would not be content with either a minority stake or minority voice.

Cricket in England and Wales is at a watershed moment, caught in a maze of alternative possibilities, each one of which has unknown consequences. The ECB, under previous management, was the architect of this moment, through its introduction of The Hundred, which is contracted to run until 2028. In a twist of fate, it is now regarded as a medium for escape from impecunity. The alternative to equity sale is to do nothing and watch the system crumble. Equity sale will be tantamount to privatizing a part of that system. It was difficult to escape the feeling at Southampton that I was watching one part of that system which is heading for trauma.


Curran stars for Punjab as Rajasthan lose four in row

Curran stars for Punjab as Rajasthan lose four in row
Updated 15 May 2024
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Curran stars for Punjab as Rajasthan lose four in row

Curran stars for Punjab as Rajasthan lose four in row
  • Chasing a tricky 145 on a sluggish pitch, Punjab depended on Curran’s unbeaten 63 to achieve their target
  • Impact substitute Ashutosh Sharma smashed 17 and the winning run to hand Rajasthan their fourth successive defeat

GUWAHATI, India: Skipper Sam Curran starred with bat and ball as Punjab Kings beat Rajasthan Royals by five wickets for a consolation win in the Indian Premier League on Wednesday.
Chasing a tricky 145 on a sluggish pitch, Punjab depended on Curran’s unbeaten 63 to achieve their target with seven balls to spare in Rajasthan’s adopted home ground in Guwahati.
Left-handed Curran put on a key 63-run stand with Jitesh Sharma, who made 22, and despite losing his partner in the 16th over steered the team home to lift them from the bottom of the 10-team table.
Impact substitute Ashutosh Sharma smashed 17 and the winning run to hand Rajasthan their fourth successive defeat in this edition of the T20 tournament.
“To be very honest, we have to sit back and accept that we are going through some failures,” Rajasthan skipper Sanju Samson said.
“You have to find out what’s not working well as a team. When you are getting to the business end, we need someone to raise their finger up and say I am going to win the game for the team. We have the players who can do that.”
The loss for Rajasthan hurt their chances of a top-two finish in the league stage a day after they confirmed their play-off spot.
Rajasthan, who stay in second place with one game in hand, and table-toppers Kolkata Knight Riders are the only two teams to have booked their play-off berth.
The top four teams make the play-offs, but the first and second-placed sides have the advantage of two chances to qualify for the final on May 26 in Chennai.
Punjab, who had already bowed out of the play-off race, kept the opposition down to 144-9 despite a 34-ball 48 by Riyan Parag.
Left-arm quick Curran bowled Yashasvi Jaiswal, for four, in the first over and then Samson departed for 18 off Nathan Ellis after a slow start.
Parag found Ravichandran Ashwin, who hit 28 off 19 balls, for company and the two attempted to push the scoring in their partnership of 50.
The rest of the batting faltered against a disciplined attack as Curran, fellow quick Harshal Patel and spinner Rahul Chahal took two wickets each.